October 31, 2007
Social Networking for India's Poor
The best-known networking sites in the industry connect computer-savvy elites to one another. Babajob, by contrast, connects India’s elites to the poor at their doorsteps, people who need jobs but lack the connections to find them. Job seekers advertise skills, employers advertise jobs and matches are made through social networks.
For example, if Rajeev and Sanjay are friends, and Sanjay needs a chauffeur, he can view Rajeev’s page, travel to the page of Rajeev’s chauffeur and see which of the chauffeur’s friends are looking for similar work.
Mr. Blagsvedt, now 31, joined Microsoft in Redmond in 1999. Three years ago he was sent to India to help build the local office of Microsoft Research, the company’s in-house policy research arm. The new team worked on many of the same complex problems as their peers in Redmond, but the employees here led very different lives outside the office than their counterparts in Redmond. They had servants and laborers. They read constant newspaper tales of undernourishment and illiteracy.
The company’s Indian employees were not seeing poverty for the first time, but they were now equipped with first-rate computing skills, and many felt newly empowered to help their society.
At the same time, Microsoft was plagued by widespread software piracy, which limited its revenue in India. Among other things, the company looked at low-income consumers as a vast and unexploited commercial opportunity, so it encouraged its engineers’ philanthropic urges.
...In the course of that work, Mr. Blagsvedt stumbled upon an insight by a Duke University economist, Anirudh Krishna.
Mr. Krishna found that many poor Indians in dead-end jobs remain in poverty not because there are no better jobs, but because they lack the connections to find them. Any Bangalorean could confirm the observation: the city teems with laborers desperate for work, and yet wealthy software tycoons complain endlessly about a shortage of maids and cooks.
Mr. Blagsvedt’s epiphany? “We need village LinkedIn!” he recalled saying, alluding to the professional networking site.
October 30, 2007
Justice Dept Official Sorry for Telling the Truth As He Sees It
The head of the Justice Department's voting section apologized today for saying that racial minorities are more likely to die before becoming elderly and therefore are not hurt as much as whites by voter identification laws.
In prepared testimony for an appearance in front of a House Judiciary subcommittee this morning, John K. Tanner said his remarks earlier this month at the National Latino Congreso in Los Angeles "do not in any way accurately reflect my career of devotion" to upholding federal voting rights laws.
"I want to apologize for the comments," Tanner said in his testimony. " . . . I understand that my explanation of the data came across in a hurtful way, which I deeply regret."
The apology follows a series of remarks by Tanner this month that have caused a political uproar and led to calls from some Democrats, including presidential hopeful Barack Obama, that Tanner resign or be fired.
Tanner, a 31-year career Justice Department employee, has previously come under fire for his stewardship at the voting section, including his approval of a controversial voter identification law for the state of Georgia and his handling of an investigation into alleged voting irregularities in Ohio during the 2004 elections.
At the Los Angeles conference earlier this month, Tanner said that voter identification laws primarily affect elderly people because they are less likely to have photo IDs, and are less likely to impact minorities who tend to die earlier.
"Our society is such that minorities don't become elderly the way white people do," Tanner said. "They die first . . . And so anything that disproportionately impacts the elderly has the opposite impact on minorities--just the math is such as that."
A few days earlier, Tanner also suggested to the Georgia NAACP that poor people are likely to have photo IDs because check-cashing businesses require them.
Tanner, who is white, also asked the group: "You think you get asked for ID more than I do? I've never heard anyone talk about driving while white."
The remarks prompted widespread criticism from Democrats, who said Tanner's analysis of demographic patterns was flawed and amateurish and indicated a lack of concern for minority rights. In a letter to acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler, Obama wrote that Tanner "possesses neither the character nor the judgment" to keep his job.
In separate testimony to be delivered later today, a former voting section analyst says that Tanner's remarks about minority voters "are actually a fair example of his approach to truth, facts and the law."
"Broad generalizations, deliberate misuse of statistics, and casual supposition, in my experience, were preferred over the analytical rigor, impartiality and scrupulous attention to detail that had marked the work of the section prior to Tanner taking control in 2005," Toby Moore, a former Justice Department political geographer, said in his prepared testimony.
Note how Tanner's supposed apology only states regret that his "explanation of the data came across in a hurtful way." In other words, he is sorry for not sugar-coating the truthful "explanation," which apparently we can't handle.
The depth of ignorance and the deliberate snub of rational thinking revealed here is, unfortunately, all too typical.
Update: The Washington Post article by Dan Eggen today notes that Tanner apologized for his "tone," not for the substance of his claim. And it offers some facts that show that Tanner's analysis is hasty and likely incorrect:
National health statistics show that blacks have shorter life expectancies than whites. But lawmakers and some voting experts said other data also show that older minority voters frequently cast ballots at higher rates than their white counterparts.
Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) said voting statistics in his own state show that a higher percentage of blacks older than 60 voted in the 2004 presidential election than whites in the same age group.
"You engaged in analysis without knowing the numbers," Davis said. "If you are basing your conclusions on stereotypes rather than facts, then it suggests to some of us that someone else can do this job better than you can."
Yale Symposium on Reputation in Cyberspace
Link: Information Society Project.
December 7-8, 2007
Reputation, which plays a key role in almost any economic or social system, is a fundamental, but not well understood, aspect of online business transactions, peer production of information and knowledge, and exchanges within virtual social communities. Traditional modes of authentication, accreditation, reputation, and prior acquaintance with participants rely on the social norms of close-knit communities and the accountability of meeting face to face. Since these mechanisms usually do not apply to online environments, we have witnessed the development of alternative models for reputation management including third-party certificate authorities, peer-produced evaluations, ratings, stars, points, karma and others.
These new models, which apply to businesses, community-mediated information sources, people, goods, and services, challenge our accepted notions of identity, social capital, accreditation, expertise, and risk as they shift the reliance of reputation systems away from traditional business and social networks, educational backgrounds and institutional affiliations and towards the wisdom of the crowd. This shift, in turn, entails dramatic changes to information privacy, information quality, ownership and the ability of groups and individuals to affect these issues. Technology-mediated, cyber-reputation management is based on transactions in information that are often sensitive and always contextual. The data and information that are collected in online reputation systems are both valuable and powerful. The ability to control this information, store it, process it, access it, and transport it, are crucial to the maintenance of the reputation economy.
The symposium will seek to explore themes in individual reputation, business reputation, community-mediated information production, and the implications to democracy and innovation. The symposium, which will be open to the public, will bring together leading scholars from industry, academia and government to discuss the role of reputation in cyberspace.
October 25, 2007
Diaspora Bonds Fade With Time
The majority of Hispanic immigrants maintain ties to their native countries by sending money to, calling or traveling to their homelands, but most see their future in the United States despite these long-distance links, a new study has found.
Just 9 percent of Latino immigrants are "highly attached" to their birth countries -- defined by researchers as doing all three "transnational activities": dispatching funds, phoning weekly or going home in the past two years. Most sustain moderate bonds by doing one or two. But those attachments fade with time, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report based on a nationwide survey of Latinos.
... In the case of Latino immigrants, the Pew study found, transnational activities do not hinder bonds to the United States. More than 60 percent -- recent and long-term immigrants, U.S. citizens and noncitizens -- say they plan to stay and are more concerned about politics and government in the United States than in their native countries.
But the report makes clear that immigrants' interactions with and feelings about their homelands are complicated and varied. The longer Latino immigrants live in the United States, the more their transnational activities drop off and they see this nation as their "real homeland," the survey found. Still, nearly all consider themselves first Peruvians or Mexicans, say, rather than Americans. Although recent arrivals are more likely to send money home, they are less likely to travel home than are established Hispanic immigrants.
As the report puts it: "Home country and host country options coexist among many immigrants and may indeed be mutually compatible."
Just ask Mabelon Obregon, a Peru native who owns a Fairfax City bagel shop. After 15 years in the United States, he said, he rarely sends money to, calls or travels to Peru. Most of his relatives have died or moved, he said. Obregon, 38, is certain his children will always call the United States home. But he said that once he and his wife retire, they might spend time in Peru. "Half year there, half here," he said.
... Among them is Fidel Hurtado, 44, who moved to Reston eight years ago from Pereira, Colombia. Hurtado, a bank employee and permanent U.S. resident, said he phones home several times a week, sends relatives money every two weeks and travels to Colombia often, most recently to deliver to Colombian children scholarship money raised by a Northern Virginia nonprofit.
Hurtado said he will consider himself both American and Colombian once he becomes a U.S. citizen. And he will stay.
"My heart is there, but my strength and my energy are here," Hurtado said.
October 24, 2007
Cloak and Dagger in 1973 South Korea
South Korea's spy agency has admitted it abducted future President Kim Dae-jung in 1973, with tacit backing from then leader Park Chung-hee. The admission came after a three-year inquiry by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) into its past conduct.
Agents snatched Mr Kim, who had lost an election to Mr Park in 1971, from a Tokyo hotel. They reportedly took him away in a boat intending to kill him.
Reports say the abduction was foiled after the US intervened.
... Most reports of the kidnap say Mr Kim's death was averted by the timely arrival of a US plane, which overflew the boat and scared the abductors.
... Mr Kim was kept under house arrest and in prison for several years after that, but re-entered politics as South Korea moved from military rule to democracy.
He was elected president in 1997 and later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his policy of engagement with North Korea.
He walks with a limp because of injuries sustained in 1971 when a lorry ran his car off the road - an incident widely viewed as another attempt on his life.
October 23, 2007
Rubenfeld on Mukasey on Executive Power
AT his confirmation hearings last week, Michael B. Mukasey, President Bush’s nominee for attorney general, was asked whether the president is required to obey federal statutes. Judge Mukasey replied, “That would have to depend on whether what goes outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country.”
I practiced before Judge Mukasey when I was an assistant United States attorney, and I saw his fairness, conscientiousness and legal acumen. But before voting to confirm him as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, the Senate should demand that he retract this statement. It is a dangerous confusion and distortion of the single most fundamental principle of the Constitution — that everyone, including the president, is subject to the rule of law.
October 22, 2007
CIA: Fighting Terror Through Misleading Logos
Given its CIA.gov URL, this seems to be an actual "Terrorist Buster" logo offered by the CIA.
It's hard for me to imagine when the CIA needs logos, except perhaps on their official badges (though a CIA logo badge may not necessarily offer sufficient evidence of the identity of one's employer).
The logo also seems wrong-headed on so many fronts--offering an image of a vicious, inhuman dark-skinned person brandishing an assault rifle as the terrorist, when actual terrorists seem more likely to at least better disguise their intent (and perhaps even differently pigmented).
NY Times Adds Blog-Like Feature to Frank Rich Column
Frank Rich's Oct. 21, 2007 column includes links to stories across the web that serve as footnotes to document the claims in the story. To my knowledge, the NYT's earlier links were to unhelpful general information on "Iraq" or "White House." Here, we see the NYT borrowing explicitly from the strategy used by bloggers everywhere.
Thus, Rich's online column is actually significantly more information rich than the print version.
All this, ironically, when the online column has just become free.
I thus pay for a print edition that now offers less information than the free online edition (of course, I would find it very hard to give up that print edition because it presents the information in a way that is especially helpful).
October 19, 2007
U.S. Visa Restrictions Help Protect U.S. Entertainers from Foreign Competition
The Halle Orchestra, one of Great Britain's oldest symphony orchestras, has not toured the United States in more than a decade, so spirits were high when the group secured dates at Lincoln Center and in Upstate New York for performances last winter.
But when the orchestra learned that to get their entry visas, all 85 musicians -- every last cellist, oboist and piccolo player -- would have to travel from their Manchester headquarters to the U.S. Embassy in London for personal interviews, electronic fingerprinting and facial-recognition scans, it scrapped the trip. Budgeting for airfare and travel costs to New York was one thing, but simply getting everyone to the embassy at the same time, along with hotel bills and fees for the visas themselves, would have cost an additional $80,000, said marketing director Andy Ryans.
... Theirs aren't the only ones. To perform in this country, foreign artists of all stripes -- punk rockers, ballet dancers, folk musicians, acrobats -- are funneled through a one-size-fits-all "nonimmigrant" visa process whose costs and complications have become prohibitive, according to booking agents, managers and presenters, such as the Kennedy Center, who program and market the performers. Visiting businesspeople face similar security hurdles put in place since Sept. 11, 2001. But artists' visa petitions also require substantial documentation to satisfy the "sustained international recognition" requirement for the type of visa (called a "P-1") issued to many performing artists.
Arts organizations say they have become reluctant to book foreign performers because of the risk of bureaucratic snags. Advocates are lobbying Congress to pass a bill, called the ARTS Act (for "Arts Require Timely Service"), that would fast-track artists' visa petitions.
"It's become kind of a nightmare to continue in the international business," said Jeff Laramie, whose Middleton, Wis.-based SRO Artists Inc. watched a three-week, $250,000 tour by the Peking Opera of Jilin -- a troupe it had brought over in the past -- dissolve in 2003 when the company's visas were denied.
James Watson: Only Third of Temp Employees Pychopaths or Sociopaths; Power of Reasoning May Not Be Equally Heritage of Humanity
One in three people looking for a job in temporary employment bureaux in Los Angeles is a psychopath or a sociopath. Is this a consequence of their environment or their genetic components? DNA sequencing should give us the answer. The thought that some people are innately wicked disturbs me. But science is not here to make us feel good. It is to answer questions in the service of knowledge and greater understanding.
...We do not yet adequately understand the way in which the different environments in the world have selected over time the genes which determine our capacity to do different things. The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity. It may well be. But simply wanting this to be the case is not enough. This is not science.
For genetic reasons attributable to my ancestry, I may lack the reasoning ability to formulate a cogent response.